Cannot Swim could not name his surroundings. This was new to him. He knew all the animals in the woods around his village–the bear and the deer and the shrike–and the trees that the animals lived within. He could tell trout from salmon in the lake, and he knew the stars in the sky. The Pulaski had constellations just like the Greeks did. Different patterns, different names, same stories. Heroic archers. The beasts. Gods and their attendants. Demons who were sights of woe. Cannot Swim knew what everything in his world was, or at least he had until he entered Watts’ Dry Goods.
Tools. He knew that most of what he was looking at were tools. He could imagine what the shovel was for, and the pick, but they floated there free of linguistic tether and Cannot Swim could not pin them down in his brain. Perhaps if he had been presented with only one new item, a lone addition to his universe, then he would be taking it better, but the entire room was without name and confusing and out of context. Worked metal. The Pulaski did not work metal into useful shapes, and so Cannot Swim was unused to processing the way the light gleamed off of worked metal and he stared like a virgin into a disco ball at the shovels and the picks, and so much else he did not comprehend and could not name. Greasy black mechanisms and angry halberds and shallow pans, and he had no idea why any of it existed. He reached into his satchel and pulled out several peregrine leaves, jammed them all into his mouth at once.
Talks To Whites was talking to a White.
“Hundred rounds. One rifle.
“600, Mr. Watts. 600 rounds and six rifles.”
“Can’t do it, Peter.”
Talks To Whites was known to the Whites as Peter. Mostly because that’s how he introduced himself.
“I have the gold.”
“Ain’t a question of the gold. I sell you all that ammunition, what’s to keep you and your savage brothers and sisters from coming in here and massacring all us decent Christians?”
“Quite a few things would keep us from that. First, there’s the fact that we don’t want to do that.”
“So you say,” Mr. Watts said. He was wearing a bowler hat, and his shirt had no collar. Suspenders and gray trousers. Boots red and brown from the mud of the thoroughfare. C—–a City was a new town in gold boom California, and so the thoroughfare was not paved. It was also not paved because it was 18– and paving would not be invented until the 1920’s.
“What if I promise?”
“An Indian’s word to a White man is as useless as a Chinaman’s prick. Your aggressive ways are known to all in this great land.”
“We’re gonna shoot animals with the bullets.”
“And now the White man is an animal to you!?”
“Not what I meant. Actual animals.”
“Peter, I refer you to the Lord, who is named Jesus Christ and died for one of your sins,” Mr. Watt said. He pointed towards a crucifix hanging on the wall. Around two feet tall, carved from one piece of oak.
“Right, Jesus, yeah. What about Him?”
“Look at him! Look hard. Who does He look like, me or you?”
Talks To Whites, whom the Whites called Peter, peered at the Christ. He had long hair that ran free and a pronounced nose.
“He looks way more like me than you.”
Mr. Watt had pale eyes and a weak chin and was six inches shorter than Talks To Whites. He squinted his eyes at the crucifix on the wall.
“That particular crucifix is blasphemous.”
“You’re just moving the goalposts all around here, man.”
Watts spit a goober of tobacco PING into the dull bronze spittoon. The floor was stained with old spittle and wet with new all around the container’s base. Cannot Swim heard the unfamiliar noise and wandered over to the counter where the two men were negotiating. He leaned over the spittoon, head directly about its mouth and SPEEYOOOO dropped a slimy leaf-loogie that looked like a green comet, fat head and thick tail, into the receptacle. Wiped his lip. Straightened up. Put his hands on his hips. Smiled like a goon.
“What’s wrong with your boy, Peter?”
“He ain’t. I’ll kick his ass outta my shop, he don’t start acting civilized. I know it’s beyond you people, but he can fuckin’ fake it for a minute while we do business.”
Talks To White’s father was also known as Talks To Whites, but his family name was High Noon. The Pulaski were happy to live well away from whatever that new thing they were calling “America” was, but they needed rifles. Ammo, too, and also knives. The Whites had invented such wonderful things. This meant someone needed to go and talk to them, and that someone was Talks To Whites, Sr. The elders thought he was smart, and so they pushed him from the village for his Assignment.
“You will go and learn to speak the White language,” his grandfather, Clever Hands, said.
“How? From who?”
“Excellent question. Insightful. And then you will buy us rifles and ammunition. Knives, too.”
“And bring it all back here.”
“How am I gonna do any of that?”
“Another good question. So smart.” Clever Hands gave High Noon a little shove in the back towards the Segovian Hills.
The elders were right: High Noon was smart, and he found a farm where a family called the Greenwoods lived, and he traded the shiny rocks that pebbled the streams that cut through the valley for lessons in the White language, which he would come to find out was called English. He learned that the rocks were called gold, and what men would do for them. The farmer’s name was Caleb, and he taught High Noon to read from the Bible. High Noon was polite, because he was clever, and he never mentioned how little sense the book made. It was very complicated, he thought. He would stick with The Turtle Who Was And Will Be Again. He still bowed his head when the family said grace, though.
When he returned to the Pulaski with a horse laden with rifles and ammunition, and also knives, he was greeted as a man and received his village name of Talks To Whites. The horse was not named immediately, but soon came to be called Easy Life. Everyone was very happy to see him.
Nine months later, Talks To Whites had a son.
He taught his son the White language from birth, but by the time the boy was ten, he regretted it. Talks To Whites had seen the Whites many times since he first met Caleb Greenwood and his son Johnny on their farm, and he did not like them. He had begun to pray to the Segovian Hills at night, to thank them from the barrier that separated the Pulaski from America. One day. One day, Talks To Whites knew, there would be something in the village that the Whites wanted. Not needed. Wanted. This, he thought was the difference between the Pulaski and the White. They were slaves to want. He cursed himself for teaching his son their language. Some other child should go, some child not my own, let them learn to speak White and trade with them and smell them and sneak away from them praying they’ve not caused offense.
The tribe needed ammo. That was all there was to it, and that meant that someone must trade with the Whites. His son knew the language. That’s all there was to it.
No one else should have to suffer, he thought.
Talks To Whites brought his son along on his trips starting from when the boy was ten. They did not speak for almost the entire journey, and then Talks To Whites said to his son,
“What would happen if a Pulaski were to kill another Pulaski?”
“I don’t know.”
There had been no murders during Talks To White’s son’s life.
“What do you think would happen?’
The boy was quiet and hunched up his shoulders.
“Something. The killer would be expelled from the village. Or punished. I don’t know. Something.”
“Something,” Talks To Whites said. “Something would happen. The murder would not be ignored.”
“Yeah. Of course.”
“I agree. What would happen if a White killed a Pulaski?”
“I don’t know. Something?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. They would dump the body out with the trash. Maybe it would get cut up by one of their doctors. But there would be no punishment for the murderer. In fact, the murderer might get a nickname out of it. ‘Injun-Killin’ Joe’ or some shit like that.”
“Because they do not think we are people”
This was a lot to lay on a ten-year-old. They walked again, in silence for some time. The boy said,
“What if a Pulaski killed a White? Would he be punished for that?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Why is it stupid?”
“It just is. Shut up.”
Four years later, Talks To White’s warning proved out. The boy was sick. Talks To Whites needed to go, but the boy was sick and so he waited but then could not wait any longer and he went to trade with the Whites by himself. He did not come back, and the boy was called Talks To Whites from then on. Sometimes, decisions are made for you.
“My cousin’s never been out of the village, Mr. Watts. He’s a little overwhelmed by all the progress.”
“Is he now?”
Watts broke into a shiny smile that did not show off his browned teeth, and he clapped Cannot Swim on the shoulder. He took the boy to the door of the shop and motioned out at the thoroughfare.
“You see this, boy? This is America. Aaaa-meeeer-iiii-caaaa. Little piece of her, anyways. And, y’see, boy: she was granted to us. Not us.”
Watts pointed at the two of them.
Watts pointed at himself.
“And y’know why? It is our industry, chief. How long you fuckin’ heathens been here? Ain’t built shit. Ain’t built shit, and you do not know of the Lord. Jesus, not whatever idolatrous shenanigans you get up to around your fire. The Christian knows toil, y’see. Not like your kind. The Christian works to better hisself from dawn til dusk. It’s a fuckin’ work ethic, not that you savages ever heard of such a thing. Look here.”
He raised his arm and pulled back the sleeve to reveal a pale and hairy forearm, then grabbed Cannot Swim’s wrist and lifted his arm so that the two were next to each other.
Watts pointed at his arm.
“That’s fuckin’ commerce, boy. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit that spread this nation from sea to shining fuckin’ sea.”
He pointed at Cannot Swim’s arm.
“And that? That’s fuckin’ sloth. Lollygagging around outside all fuckin’ day. Picking berries and shit like some fuckin’ animal.”
Cannot Swim did not know what Watts was saying. It seemed unpleasant, but he was having trouble concentrating on the little man with the round head and the round hat. He smelled like used piss. Women walked by on the boardwalk outside the shop. Shorter than Pulaski women, but beyond that he could not say. Their shapes were hidden in large clothing. The women did not wear trousers, Cannot Swim noticed, and they also did not wear hats. He wondered why the women did not wear hats. The Blacks wore the same clothing as the Whites. The men, at least. There were no women Blacks. The Chinese wore their own clothing; they also wore hats, but they all wore the same hat while the Whites sported several different kinds of hat.
Figure out the hats, Cannot Swim thought to himself, and you will figure out the Whites. The key to all of this is the hat situation.
The peregrine maria leaf is broad, about the size of a child’s fist, and has thirteen points. One side has a waxy aloe that you can scrape off with your fingernail, and the other side is paler and has a vein running through it that is the exact shape of the Mississippi’s route. Rolled tightly, a leaf was the size of a generous joint. When a leaf was chewed, it produced an effect like strong coffee or weak cocaine.
But if you stuffed a wad of them in your mouth at once, you were going to trip balls.
“This is exhausting.”
“The conversation or the climb?”
“These are exhausting,” Mr. Venable said.
He and Penny Arrabbiata were halfway up the utility stairs that led to Harper Observatory’s prime focus. It was shaped like a soup can and next to the 100-inch telescope that was at one time the largest on the West Coast. 80 feet up. Chandrasekhar kept trying to get all the other astronomers to say it was 24 meters up, but they ignored him and considered denouncing him as a Communist. This most likely would have backfired, as the astronomers were all associated with Harper College, and the campus was red as hell in 1969.
The prime focus controlled the telescope, and it was where the eyepiece was. The actual image of the star, so very far away, right in your eyeball. A nifty trick. All done with mirrors. Downstairs in the office was the video feed and the readouts and all the science bullshit streamed through thick cables. There was even a computer terminal that was connected to Harper College’s mainframe, which was called BIVOUAC. The post-docs fought with each other and the other departments for log-in time.
“You’ll love it,” Penny said.
“Stop reassuring me of the future.”
“It’s filled with stars.”
“It’s filled with stairs.”
He did, and soon they were in the prime focus. Ten feet in diameter with a circular control panel. Surrounding that, a bare metal floor just wide enough for a medium-sized person’s shoulders. The room was shaped like an astronomy doughnut. There was an office chair with wheels and green padding on the seat that was leaking in the corner. No water, no toilet, no heat. Penny loved it. It was filled with stars.
The entrance was a trap door.
“Ooh. Trap door. Very sneaky,” Mr. Venable said.
“Door, Trap Door.”
Penny crawled up first, and he flicked her ankle through her jeans.
“He’s dead to me. You stop that.”
“I’m not amused, Penelope.”
“He was Australian!”
They were both standing in the prime focus now, and Mr. Venable was gesticulating.
“He was a damned Australian! James Bond cannot be a damned Australian! It’s immoral. That man was a lumpy-faced baboon. James Bond’s name is Sean Connery.”
Penny kissed him.
“James Bond’s name is James Bond. And he is fictional.”
He put his hands in her pockets. It was the most romantic thing he could think of. Plus, he was cold. It was the end of December and chilly inside Harper Observatory at night when the giant metal shutter were open.
“He’s as real as you or me.”
“James Bond? They’re adventure stories for little boys.”
He removed his hands from her pockets.
“How dare you?”
“They are the Greek myths of the modern day.”
“Nooooo. It’s a guy running around sticking his dick in the world and shooting people.”
“What do you think Greek myths were?”
Penny put her hands in his pockets.
“I need you to stop talking about this movie.”
“George Lazenby. What kind of name is that for a human being?”
She kissed him so he would shut up. He did. Penny pointed to the eyepiece, and Mr. Venable bent down and looked into it. She was not in control of the telescope tonight. Hockenley was. He liked it in the office with the monitors and the readouts and the space heater and the bathroom. He had pointed the ‘scope towards Perseus.
“Algol. 92 light years away,” Penny said. ‘Which is close, relatively.”
“Hop, skip, and a jump.”
“It’s a binary star, but there are three of them.”
“The universe resists categorization.”
Penny looked at his ass. Mr. Venable was wearing flared corduroy trousers, and she disapproved. She needed to take him shopping.
“Three stars in a binary system. Its description required a new math. You got the two in the middle in a circular orbit. They’re called Aa1 and Aa2.”
“Those are exciting names.”
“Six million miles away from each other. The two in the middle. They revolve around a point called a barycenter that’s in between them but proportionally closer to the more massive star. One’s three times the size of the sun, the other’s smaller than the sun. Only six million miles between them. See how’s it’s blinking?”
“Yes,” he said, and reached back to hold onto her knee.
“The orbit lines up with us. It’s called an eclipsing binary. Of all 360 degrees that those stars could have orbited each other, they’re perfectly aligned so we can see the stars passing in front of each other every three days.”
“68.6 hours. A bit less than three days. They’re moving at a clip. And then there’s Ab. Ab is bigger than the little star but smaller than the big one.”
“It’s an F star. Our star is a G. Both main sequence. And it orbits the two rotating stars in a cigar-shaped orbit. Little bit under two years to go all the way around. But the third star’s not the interesting part.”
“Third star’s the third wheel.”
Penny ran her hand up Mr. Venable’s back and through his hair.
“The big star? Aa1? It’s a subgiant. But the little sucker? Aa2? It’s a main sequence star. The two bodies are at different points in their evolution despite being born at the same time. This was called the Algol Paradox.”
“Has a solution been found?’
“Big star’s eating the little one. The more massive you are, the faster time goes.”
“Darwin meets Einstein,” Mr. Venable said. He stood up and rubbed his eye, and then Penny took his wrist and stopped him. She rubbed his eye for him. Gently. Then he kissed her. Harper Observatory rotated beneath them so silently that they did not notice.
Penny leaned down and pressed her eye against the piece. Mr. Venable looked at her ass.
“Algol is the demon star,” he said. “The name is Classical Arabic. Al-ghūl. The demon. This is where we get the word ‘ghoul’ from.”
“I was wondering.”
“But the star appears in the literature far before that. The ancient Hebrews knew it. They called it Rosh ha-Satan. Head of the enemy. The Babylonians called it Lilith.”
“Man’s first wife.”
“And treated as such forevermore.”
“Lilith got a bad rap.”
“And so does Algol. The Romans called it Caput Larvae.”
“That sounds terrible.”
“It should. Guess what the Chinese called it.”
“I don’t speak Chinese.”
“Neither do I, but the translation is Piled-Up Corpses.”
It was cold in the prime focus, and Penny rubbed her hip into Mr. Venable’s crotch. She kept her eye on the piece and stared at a star.
“And then there’s the occult. Algol is mentioned in texts dating back to the 1500’s. It’s one of the Behenian Stars that align with the Zodiac. Saturn and Jupiter in particular. The big boys. Nothing magickal gets done without Algol.”
“Did you put a ‘k’ in magical?”
“No, of course not.”
The stars rotated above them so silently that they did notice.
“Homer wrote about it.”
“Happy and complimentary things?”
“Called it deformed and dreadful, and a sight of woe.”
Penny straightened up and put her hands on her hips.
“He should take that back.”
He laughed HAH! and smiled and kissed her, nodding his head.
“I completely agree. Blind bastard can’t get away with it.”
“It’s just rude, for one thing. And wrong. Algol’s not evil, it’s fascinating. I would understand if people were saying these terrible things about Antares, but not Algol.”
“What’s wrong with Antares?”
His collar was wide and she was wearing a denim work shirt that she bought at the Army/Navy store. At certain moments in fashion history, the rich and poor are on equal grounds because the hippest clothes are the cheapest clothes. These moments are immediately followed by designers recreating the cheap clothes at an absurd markup. The shirt was made for a man, and buttoned left over right. There was a soft pack of Marlboros in the breast pocket; she tasted like cigarettes when he kissed her, and he did not mind.
“This is the worst honeymoon I’ve ever been on,” Mr. Venable.
“Have there been many?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘many.'”
She poked him in the belly.
“Well, there was Stacia.”
“I knew there was something between you two.”
“I knew it was love when she told me it was. She’s so forceful.”
Penny searched his eyes.
“You are kidding, right?”
“You’re joking,” he said.
“I’ve been in this neighborhood six months. I don’t know everyone’s backstory.”
“They get filled in over time.”
“Tell me you weren’t married to Stacia.”
“Of course I wasn’t married to Stacia. Stacia doesn’t marry people, she bites them and throws them at trees.”
“I heard she got into the elementary school the other day.”
“She did. The lunchladies held her at bay while the children were evacuated. Their ladles as swords, trays as shields. They’re up for the Tyndale medal.”
Penny leaned her head in to kiss him and then pulled away, walked around the central console until it was between them. Mr. Venable looked into the eyepiece again. She fetched a cigarette from the pack without taking it out of her pocket. Dug around for her matches. FFT. PHWOO. It was 1969, and you were allowed to smoke around the scientific instruments. There was an ashtray in a shelf.
“Where should we go?”
“Victory Diner sounds fine,” Mr. Venable said.
“We can’t go to the Victory Diner for our honeymoon. There’s no pool.”
“I have time off in the summer.”
“That’s my busy time.”
“You do not have a busy time.”
“Nonsense. Just today, there were six people in the shop at once. Six! After they left, I had to lock up for a bit and nap.”
“I was a sight of woe.”
Christ and His cross were carved out of oak. Just one piece, so that the Lord’s back flowed into the timbers that he was staked to. There were flaking chips in the varnish where His head met the wood. Jesus was glossy and brown just like the cross, all one color together because the Christ’s death is as necessary as His life: He was Life itself, and the crucifix was Death, and both were made from the same piece of oak that hung on the wall of Watt’s Dry Goods in C—–a City.
Watts had led Cannot Swim in from the door of the shop to stand below the Christ. The boy felt like he did in Here And There’s kotcha: overwhelmed and disastrous. Also: very high.
“This is Jesus. Jeeeee-sus. Can you fucking say Jesus?”
“Mr. Watts,” Talks To Whites said.
“Shut the fuck up. I’m talking to your boy here.”
Talks To Whites had one hand on the counter. There were soup bowls and lanterns and sacks of flour. There was soap, bar and flake, and hammers. Sewing needles and shovels, and lengths of rope and chain. A sign on the wall listed the prices of nails; they were sold by weight. Rolls of canvas and gingham leaned against each other in the corner. His other hand was in his pouch, where he kept his knife.
“This here is the Lord. King of fucking Kings, you understand? God. You understand God? Bet you got a fucking ton of ’em. This man right here? He’s a fucking man, He’s also God, and He’s the Son of God. He’s God, but God made him, so that means He made Himself. Jesus? He’s His own fucking father. I know you fucking savages don’t got any shit like that. Probably worship a fucking magic catfish or something.”
Cannot Swim stared at the man on the cross. He did not understand why the man was on the cross. It seemed uncomfortable.
“He came to save us and we betrayed him. For 30 pieces of silver, man betrayed their Lord, who loved them so very much. It’s a tragic fucking story of human degeneracy.”
Talks To Whites thought of his father. He always did when he came into C—–a City. The long walks there, silent mostly, and the walks back where his father would laugh and tell stories about his childhood and they would look forward to the feast that would be prepared for them. Talks To Whites’ father was good at doing impressions, and he would imitate all of the elders. Even Easy Life would laugh.
But on the way there, he was silent. Mostly.
“If you ever need to hit a White, then you need to kill him.”
“I don’t understand.”
“If you cannot run away and you need to attack a White, then kill him. Try to run away. If there is an altercation, run away. But if you cannot run away and need to fight, then you need to kill the White. Hide the body as best you can. Walk casually to the horse. Ride the horse casually out of town. Then you fucking run.”
“You are afraid of the Whites.”
“I am afraid of a place where no law applies to me. When we go to the White town, Pulaski law does not apply. Nor will we get the protections of their law.”
“I have told you why. Because they do not think we are humans. They do not believe we belong here.”
“Do they know we were here first?”
“Yes. It doesn’t seem to bother them.”
Talks To Whites’ father was dead now, and he had his hand on his knife in Watt’s Dry Goods. The windows were dirty, but the sun didn’t care; it came right on in.
“What the Christ offers,” Watts said to Cannot Swim, “is eternal fuckin’ salvation. That’s peace. Heaven. You worship Jesus, and after you die you live forever in peaceful fuckin’ clouds and everything’s real clean. Pussy’s free in heaven.”
Cannot Swim nodded like he was in someone else’s dream.
“And I have accepted the Lord’s light and love, you fuckin’ savage. It swells my heart and lays me to fuckin’ sleep at night. I sleep on a bed made of Jesus. This beautiful man…”
Watts stepped forward and placed his hand on Christ’s feet, leaving Cannot Swim standing behind him. The boy looked at his cousin. Talks To Whites shook his head back and forth. Cannot Swim nodded as if he understood, and then moved beside Watts and placed his hand on Christ’s feet, too. Talks To Whites closed his eyes and said very quietly,
“My daddy was a farmer,” Watts said. He put an arm around Cannot Swim, who, not knowing how to respond, put his arm around Watts. “The soil was pregnant with rocks ‘stead of corn. Mighty tree stumps littered his land. And my daddy ripped those roots from the ground. With his hands, dammit! The rocks came free one by one. My daddy had a back made out of railroads. And do you know what happened to my daddy?”
Cannot Swim did not know what was happening at all.
“Same thing that happens to every daddy. Goat bit him, and it got infected and he died. Before he went, he gave me this crucifix. My daddy made it with his own strong hands. The Christ is my birthright.”
The crucifix was actually purchased in Philadelphia. Jasper Watt needed luck, he figured. The overland route was a hard one. He had a wagon full of supplies to start a dry goods concern. The crucifix was, indeed, lucky right up until Zeke Harbor murdered him a few miles outside C—-a City, and stole his dry goods and identity.
“The Christ is all of our birthright, you grass-eating fuckin’ monkey. Even the Indian can know Him. Even fuckin’ you!”
Watts, whose name was not Watts, laughed and it sounded like an engine run without oil. Cannot Swim laughed, too. This was all very funny on one level. Talks To Whites was located on a different level, one with no laughter whatsoever; he had his hand on his knife.
“The throat. Don’t stab them. Might hit a rib, your knife bounces off. Then, he’s yelling. Whole point is to be quiet and get the fuck out of there before anyone notices you,” Talks To Whites’ father told him years ago.
“Cut their throat?”
“Cut it, sure. Jam your knife right into it as hard as you can. Whatever. You just have to sever the vocal chords. Got a knife in the chest, you could still call out. Throat’s cut? You’re quiet.”
The father and son walked their horse through the redwoods and pines.
“You know I’m talking about a last resort, right?”
“Watch your tone.”
Talks To Whites thought his father an old man, and very wise. He was only 26, and scared.
Now Talks To Whites was 16, and he was scared. Hand on knife. Neutral expression on face. He looked around the shop casually for someplace to hide the body. Watts spun around. His grip tightened, and Watts said,
“Four rifles. 500 rounds. Under one condition.”
“Your boy here’s getting fuckin’ baptized.”
Watts grinned and hugged Cannot Swim close to him. The boy still had not clue, but he was smiling and everything in the store was shining and breathing for him. He could see the blades of the shovels dip, and straighten up; dip, and straighten up; he smiled some more and his cousin caught his eye.
“Yo,” Talks To Whites said in the Pulaski language.
“You wanna help?”
“The little asshole’s gonna pour some water on you.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Talks To Whites said to Watts in English,
“Praise the Lord.”
A pitcher full of water behind the counter. Poured into a metal cup and Cannot Swim bends his head down on the sidewalk outside Watts’ Dry Goods. The water is not cool but still feels good on his scalp, and he is back in the Pulaski village standing beside the lake. He is naked and the moon has fucked off but the world is lit up like noon by the fires behind him. There is a figure on the other bank, a man on a horse with too many teeth, and he nudges the animal to walk away. Now he is alone and everything is green, and everything grows. The water on his scalp feels good.
Watts stood him up, and hugged him, and said,
“Brother. You are reborn in the Christ! Say hallelujah!”
Cannot Swim could not say hallelujah.
Cannot Swim could try to say Jesus.
Watts beady eyes lit up.
“The Lord has granted you wisdom, you Indian cocksucker!”
Talks To Whites leaned against the wall of the store. He stared up at the sky and muttered,
The rifles were tied to one side of the pack-saddle, and the ammo was on the other. Easy Life clopped along sullenly. The two boys were headed east, and the sun was behind them and so was C—-a City. They would reach the brook that marked their turn south before night came, and then they would walk for a few hours in the dark until they were sure no one had followed them. Their shadows were long, and trudged behind them in exhaustion.
“I should not have come,” Cannot Swim said.
“No. I shouldn’t have brought you. But you did help.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Me either, to be honest. But you did.”
They walked on for a mile or so without speaking.
“Who is Jee-tzus?”
“He’s the guy on that cross.”
“He is a god?’
“He is a god.”
“And the thing with the water?”
“Long story. You did a good job, cousin.”
They walked another mile.
“I do not want to go back there ever again,” Cannot Swim said.
“It is a sight of woe,” Talks To Whites answered.
The two boys made camp after that. They built no fire and took the pack-saddle off of Easy Life. The horse wandered gently and nibbled on bushes until he found the tastiest one. In the morning, they would rise before the sun and make their way towards the Segovian Hills. The pass was untamed but they knew the way. By nightfall, they would be home and with their families in the land that would one day be Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.